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  Runaway Manufacturing Malfunctions
Year: 1984
Director: Michael Crichton
Stars: Tom Selleck, Cynthia Rhodes, Gene Simmons, Kirstie Alley, Stan Shaw, G.W. Bailey, Joey Cramer, Chris Mulkey, Anne-Marie Martin, Michael Paul Chan, Elizabeth Norment, Carol Teasdale, Jackson Davies, Paul Batten, Babs Chula, Marilyn Schreffler
Genre: Thriller, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 2 votes)
Review: It is the near future, and technology has advanced sufficiently to enable robots to be in every home and workplace, assisting humans with their day to day tasks and generally making life run a lot smoother. That's the idea, at any rate, but machines are fallible and prone to malfunction, which calls for an expert to be brought in to stop them in their tracks: not a technician, but a specially deployed policeman. In the case of this agricultural robot, Officer Ramsay (Tom Selleck) is on the case with his new partner, Officer Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes), but what if the malfunctions grew more serious?

Michael Crichton was responsible for one cult classic science fiction movie in the seventies when he directed Westworld, the first time he'd been allowed to direct one of his scripts, but come the eighties those scripts were generating less excitement and it took Jurassic Park to make him a name to be reckoned with once more. Not that he was taking it easy in this decade, for one of his would-be blockbusters was Runaway, which sadly for him was a flop which could have been down to his choice of casting. Tom Selleck was a big star on television with the title role of Magnum P.I., yet oddly this never translated into big screen success, and here was an example of that.

It could have been because Selleck didn't much moderate his style between the television and the cinema, so audiences were thinking they saw him on the box every week, so why bother paying money to see him on a night out when he's pretty much doing the same thing? Another reason might have been the movie's choice of technology: computers were the big deal at the time, so to go back to clunky-looking robots as the main concern was a retrograde step, when many would have rather seen some haywire supercomputer trying to take over the world rather than KISS member Gene Simmons pouting and glowering mysteriously at his fellow actors as his Luther character manipulates the machines.

Simmons had of course made his acting debut with the rest of his band in the camp classic TV movie KISS meets the Phantom of the Park, but going solo he wasn't slathered in his trademark makeup and evidently hired because of his ability to look smugly menacing, rather than containing any acting flair to back that up. Once we have been introduced to Ramsay and Thompson, we start to realise that there are some very hackneyed plot devices thrown up here, the biggest one being that Ramsay is scared of heights like James Stewart in Vertigo: gee, do you think this might have some inclusion in the movie's grand finale? Before that it's buddy film territory with the mismatched couple getting along with each other until the inevitable romance.

One drawback about Runaway's vision of the future was those robots: Crichton got it right that technology would be more prevalent in every human environment, but he got it wrong that they would take this form. So there's none of the information and communication exchange that became the signature of twenty-first century advancements, just a bunch of boxy trundlers which put the dinner on for you or electrocute Kirstie Alley. What? Yeah, the movie's robots sum up Crichton's attitude to modern life, that if anything can go wrong it will go wrong, but here it's Luther's meddling which is the biggest issue as the human element instead of the circuits frying or whatever. This all built up to a showdown on a construction site including the bit everyone remembers, no not so much the targeted bullets (with bullet-cam), but the mechanical spiders which are acidically venomous, threatening Ramsay and his young son who Luther has kidnapped. Other than that, this was interesting for what it missed. Music by Jerry Goldsmith.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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